In a Flyover State: How Sports Producers Are Becoming Twits

Twitter is putting live sports on a tape delay, and producers need to react to this fast
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Live sports on television is bringing in rights fees like never before, in large part because it is DVR-proof. It is, however, not Twitter-proof, and producers need to pull their heads out of the sand and figure out how to react to this fast, because from an information standpoint, even live television is becoming tape delay.

There has been endless debate over how television networks should handle events that take place overseas, such as the Olympics and Wimbledon. Do you air it live at non-peak hours to smaller audiences, or delay it until primetime, where you can snag more viewers?

In the recent announcement that ESPN had won Wimbledon from NBC, a big deal was made that everything will be aired live. Now it’s time for ESPN and everyone else to get on the ball and present all information in real time, because we as viewers are already getting it online.

When I watch sports I usually have the ol’ Twitter feed up and running, and I keep finding I am getting a lot of information from Twitter before I get it from the announcers.

That is a problem for producers. But don’t worry: I have some easy fixes for you.

For example, when watching the NBA draft a few weeks back, by following a couple of the national NBA beat writers, I usually knew each pick a good minute or two before David Stern stepped to the podium to announce it on ESPN. So, while the ESPN talent was debating who may get selected next, they looked sadly behind the times as I already knew who was getting the nod. And when ESPN was reporting a pick had been traded but didn’t know or announce the details, it was usually already long outlined on Twitter.

Another perfect example was in the recent USA miracle victory over Brazil in the Women’s World Cup. There was a game-changing call by a ref who, according to ESPN’s announcing/ cheerleading team of Ian Darke and Julie Foudy, had said that the American goalkeeper moved too early on a penalty kick that she saved; the Brazilians got the chance to retake the kick and scored. As the game went on, the announcers kept complaining about the call. But if you were on Twitter, you already knew that the ref didn’t cite the U.S. goalkeeper, but rather a different player, and that it had conversely been a just (though harsh) call. ESPN viewers didn’t get the big mistake fixed until the studio show at halftime. On Twitter, we call that a #fail.

I don’t mean to pick on ESPN, because it happens everywhere. When watching local MLB broadcasts on both Fox and Comcast networks, Twitter constantly beats the announcers to injury updates and the like during a broadcast.

So, here are the easy fixes. First, for an event like a draft, networks should run a crawl under the screen with the latest tweets from prominent journalists covering the event. If the writers break who the pick is, put it on screen. Producers could argue that this ruins the drama on TV, and the leagues wouldn’t be thrilled I’m sure, but if the information is out there, why run away from it? How long will it be before a TV can display your Twitter feed right next to the screen anyway (which those watching online can already do)?

And as for Twitter beating the announcers in the booth to news—for any broadcast of note, I would assign an intern or someone else to monitor Twitter the entire game, and quickly relay the latest news to the truck or the booth. Since it is not possible for the announcers or producers to catch everything, they’d now have a chance to keep viewers updated with much more brevity. Use it and just cite where it came from.

Twitter has become a crucial, up-to-the-second ancillary means of information delivery during a live broadcast for hardcore fans, not just a place to rip announcers who viewers can’t stand. Sports producers need to realize this and embrace it now. Before Twitter, the broadcast was the only place to get the latest developments during the event. Those days are over. Here’s hoping everyone realizes this soon.

E-mail comments to bgrossman@nbmedia.com, and follow him on Twitter: @BCBenGrossman

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